24 February 2014

Pasquereau at PRG tonight

Coral Williams and Ivy Hauser write:

PRG will be meeting tonight, February 24, at 7:00 pm in Brian Smith’s residence. According to Brian: "Parking is easiest on Fort Hill Terrace, but it's competitive". We will be hearing Jeremy Pasquereau give a practice talk for WCCFL, and there  will be more delicious Thai food!

As a reminder, the next meeting of PRG will be next Monday, March 3,  where we will hear from Emiliana at Ivy's place. Please let Ivy or me know about any questions, comments,  or concerns.

23 February 2014

Clauss at LARC

Michael Clauss will be giving a talk entitled “Ambiguity between questions and relative clauses for children and adults” at LARC this Thursday at 9:45 in the Partee room.

Emiliana Cruz talks tomorrow

Emiliana Cruz in Anthropology is giving a talk tomorrow (Monday, February 24) entitled: "Training Indigenous People to Study their Languages”  at 3:30pm in Machmer W-24.

Nathaniel Smith speaks on Wednesday

Nathaniel Smith, a Research Associate at the University of Edinburgh School of Informatics, will give a talk at 12:00 on Wednesday, Feb. 26, in Tobin 521B. The title of his talk is ''Building a Bayesian bridge between the physics and the phenomenology of social interaction.’’ An abstract follows.

What is word meaning, and where does it live? Both naive intuition andscientific theories in fields such as discourse analysis and socio-and cognitive linguistics place word meanings, at least in part,outside the head: in important ways, they are properties of speechcommunities rather than individual speakers. Yet, from aneuroscientific perspective, we know that actual speakers andlisteners have no access to such consensus meanings: the physicalprocesses which generate word tokens in usage can only depend directlyon the idiosyncratic goals, history, and mental state of a singleindividual. It is not clear how these perspectives can be reconciled.This gulf is thrown into sharp perspective by current Bayesian modelsof language processing: models of learning have taken the formerperspective, and models of pragmatic inference and implicature havetaken the latter. As a result, these two families of models, thoughbuilt using the same mathematical framework and often by the samepeople, turn out to contain formally incompatible assumptions.

Here, I'll present the first Bayesian model which can simultaneouslylearn word meanings and perform pragmatic inference. In addition tocapturing standard phenomena in both of these literatures, it givesinsight into how the literal meaning of words like "some" can beacquired from observations of pragmatically strengthened uses, andprovides a theory of how novel, task-appropriate linguisticconventions arise and persist within a single dialogue, such as occursin the well-known phenomenon of lexical alignment. Over longer timescales such effects should accumulate to produce language change;however, unlike traditional iterated learning models, our simulatedagents do not converge on a sample from their prior, but instead showan emergent bias towards belief in more useful lexicons. Our modelalso makes the interesting prediction that different classes ofimplicature should be differentially likely to conventionalize overtime.  Finally, I'll argue that the mathematical "trick" needed toconvince word learning and pragmatics to work together in the samemodel is in fact capturing a real truth about the psychologicalmechanisms needed to support human culture, and, more speculatively,suggest that it may point the way towards a general mechanism forreconciling qualitative, externalist theories of social interactionwith quantitative, internalist models of low-level perception andaction, while preserving the key claims of both approaches.

Naomi Feldman gives department colloq on Friday

Naomi Feldman (University of Maryland) gives the department colloquium this Friday, February 28, in Machmer E-37 at 3:30. Her talk is entitled “Interactive learning of sounds and words.” An abstract follows:

Infants begin learning words during the same period as they learn phonetic categories, yet accounts of phonetic category acquisition typically ignore information about the words in which sounds appear.  This work uses computational and behavioral methods to test the hypothesis that infants’ developing knowledge of words provides useful information for learning about phonetic categories.  A first set of simulations examines the potential benefit of a developing lexicon that contains no semantic information.  A Bayesian model is constructed that learns to categorize speech sounds and words simultaneously, and this model outperforms a model that is solely focused on learning phonetic categories.  Artificial language learning experiments demonstrate that human learners can use word-level information to constrain phonetic learning, and that they are sensitive to this information at the same age when they are learning phonetic categories.  A second set of simulations examines the potential role of weak semantic knowledge in constraining sound and word learning.  The model is given weak semantic information about the situations in which words appear, and this situational semantic information is shown to be particularly beneficial for phonetic learning when the developing lexicon contains many similar-sounding words.  Together, these results point to a critical role for the developing lexicon in phonetic category acquisition and highlight the importance of considering how children integrate statistical information across multiple layers of linguistic structure.

Pater at Berkeley on Monday

Joe Pater will give the colloquium talk at University of California at Berkeley on Monday entitled “Structural Bias in Phonology.” An abstract of the talk follows.

Chomsky and Halle (1968) propose an Evaluation Procedure that prefers featurally simple rules and grammars, and Bach and Harms (1972) propose that this bias for structural simplicity can explain instances of historical change in terms of rule simplication in learning. In this talk, I discuss an alternative model of structural bias (Pater and Moreton 2012) cast in a Maximum Entropy framework (Goldwater and Johnson 2003, Hayes and Wilson 2008), which does not invoke an explicit simplicity metric. In the first part of this talk, I present this model, and the results of a phonotactic learning experiment that supports its predictions (Moreton et al. 2013). 

I also present the results of an ERP study (Moore-Cantwell et al. 2013) that provides insight into the nature of the phonotactic knowledge acquired in an experimental setting. After participants are trained on a small set of pattern-conforming words, we find that novel words that violate the pattern elicit a larger Late Positive Component (LPC) than the novel conforming items. LPCs have been observed in response to syntactic violations in language, and also violations of musical expectation. Finding an LPC rather than an N400 effect for the novel words is consistent with the view that participants in these experiments are forming an abstract generalization about the phonotactic pattern rather than directly judging the similarity of novel and trained words. It is also noteworthy that the response to a laboratory learned phonotactic constraint is similar to that for a naturally learned one (Domahs 2009).

In the last part of the talk, I present a model of how structural bias can impact phonological typology, which uses MaxEnt learning in the context of agent-based modeling. I present simulation results (Pater and Staubs 2013) that show the emergence of featural economy (Clements 2003) in systems produced by agent interaction. In these results the tendency towards simplicity is balanced by a tendency to maintain contrast between potentially homophonous words. No constraints or principles specifically demanding economy or contrast are required to obtain these results, suggesting that it is possible to maintain the standard view that phonological grammars evaluate individual representations, rather than entire systems.

Andries Coetzee: LSA Member Spotlight

UMass alumnus Andries Coetzee has been put under the LSA’s spotlight.

Bhatt at Konstanz

Rajesh Bhatt presented with Veneeta Dayal on polar questions in Hindi-Urdu at the Workshop on Non-Canonical Quesitons and Interface Issues, on the 18th of February the Kloster Hegne, Germany. The handout is here. UMass alumna Maria Biezma also gave a talk on “qué questions."

UMass at GLOW

The program for the 37th annual meeting of the Generative Linguists of the Old World has been published and includes the following two papers from UMass students.

Ethan Poole, “A Configurational Account of Finnish Case."

Yangsook Park, “Indexicals and the long-distance reflexive ‘cali’ in Korean"

Congratulations Yangsook and Ethan!